Every Disney Movie . . . Ranked

In today’s edition of not finishing my novel, I’ve decided to rank every Disney movie ever made in order of my favorites. Disney fans, I’m sure you’ve pondered your favorite Disney movies—probably even assembled a top ten—but have you ever ranked all of them? It’s hard. Been wanting to do this for weeks, so here goes.

What does it mean to be a favorite? There are movies that intellectually I can understand are better than others, but I might like the “lesser” film more. Why? Not sure. Only explanation is that art is a two-way street, and half of it is what I bring to my experience of the thing. So while I acknowledge that Beauty and the Beast is a good film, it really had very little emotional impact on me, landing it way down on the list. This is why things like lists and awards are fun, and also really stupid. It takes a special snowflake to rank Brother Bear above Frozen. I am that special snowflake, and the cold never bothered me anyway.

I’m not including Pixar, Amblin, Disney Toons, or Studio Ghibli. Perhaps I’ll make separate lists of those. For now this is strictly Walt Disney Animation Studios.

So here it is—every Disney animated feature in order of my personal favorite, for any weirdos out there who are curious. My top ten might surprise you.

  1. The Little Mermaid
  2. Sleeping Beauty
  3. Lilo & Stitch
  4. Alice in Wonderland
  5. Tangled
  6. Lady and the Tramp
  7. Pocahontas
  8. Pinocchio
  9. The Lion King
  10. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  11. Peter Pan
  12. Aladdin
  13. The Sword in the Stone
  14. Bambi
  15. Brother Bear
  16. Frozen
  17. Mulan
  18. Cinderella
  19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  20. Zootopia
  21. Moana
  22. Dumbo
  23. Robin Hood
  24. Fantasia
  25. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  26. Beauty and the Beast
  27. Big Hero 6
  28. Oliver & Company
  29. The Jungle Book
  30. The Rescuers Down Under
  31. Fantasia 2000
  32. The Princess and the Frog
  33. The Aristocats
  34. Wreck-It Ralph
  35. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
  36. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  37. Hercules
  38. The Rescuers
  39. Bolt
  40. The Fox and the Hound
  41. The Great Mouse Detective
  42. Tarzan
  43. The Emperor’s New Groove

I have only seen the following in snippets, so did not include in the ranking:

  • Saludos Amigos
  • The Three Caballeros
  • Make Mine Music
  • Fun and Fancy Free
  • Melody Time
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (I’ve seen The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which would rank highly, but I’ve never seen Wind in the Willows and definitely haven’t seen them together in this packaged film)
  • The Black Cauldron
  • Dinosaur
  • Treasure Planet
  • Home on the Range (this is when things got real tough for the Studios)
  • Chicken Little
  • Meet the Robinsons
  • Winnie the Pooh (I know! I don’t know what’s wrong with me)

So? Are you surprised by my list? Anything you would bump out of the top ten? Would love to hear all the ways in which you think I’m crazy.

Becky’s Favorite Picture Books

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I really do love making lists. Lately I’ve been so tickled to share picture book recommendations with friends that I got the idea to compile a list of my all-time favorites. This list could go on forever, so let’s see if I can limit the number to fifty—for now. It should be noted that I haven’t included any Dr. Seuss books here, as the Doc really deserves his own list. Also not listed here is Winnie-the-Pooh, which falls somewhere in between picture books, chapter books, and middle grade, but just know that no matter what, Winnie-the-Pooh is always on the top of my list.

I do so deeply love picture books, and not just because I write them. I love them because they introduce human minds to the concept of reading. How weighty is that? I love them because they are a perfect marriage of the written word and visual art. We don’t get that enough in the “adult” world. Much of the art you’ll find in picture books is daring and experimental. I love them because when you condense storytelling into such short form, you often can’t help but end up with myth and fable. To read a brilliant new picture book is to witness a fairy tale being born. It’s exciting.

If you’re wondering about my taste, okay I’ll tell you. I like books that pull on specific strings in the old heart. I like books that make me cry hard, laugh hard, or feel weird inside. It’s like I’ve got these book-shaped holes in my heart and my favorite books are the ones that were meant to fill those holes. I’m not one for lukewarm books. That sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be. There are plenty of books in the world that are solid from beginning to end and I read them and I didn’t necessarily cry or laugh or question much, but I liked it a whole lot. Knuffle Bunny comes to mind. It’s a great book. It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s solid. You should read it. I just wouldn’t put it on my fifty list.

Here they are, in some particular order but certainly not in any sort of scientific ranking. My favorite picture books:

  1. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
  2. Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood illus. Don Wood
  3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  4. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett illus. Jon Klassen
  5. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  6. Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard illus. James Marshall
  7. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Clement Hurd
  8. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  9. Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick illus. Sophie Blackall
  10. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers
  11. Penguin Problems by Jory John illus. Lane Smith
  12. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
  13. Dream Snow by Eric Carle
  14. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  15. Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman illus. Adam Rex
  16. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
  17. The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown illus. Christian Robinson
  18. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  19. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka illus. Lane Smith
  20. Waiting by Kevin Henkes
  21. Egg by Kevin Henkes
  22. Tough Boris by Mem Fox illus. Kathryn Brown
  23. Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
  24. The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt illus. Oliver Jeffers
  25. Flotsam by David Wiesner
  26. The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh illus. Chuck Groenik
  27. A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier
  28. Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex
  29. Otis by Loren Long
  30. Lon Po Po by Ed Young
  31. This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary illus. Julie Morstad
  32. Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett illus. Christian Robinson
  33. The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin illus. David Shannon
  34. The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson illus. Diane Dillon
  35. The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell illus. Charles Santoso
  36. Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming illus. G. Brian Karas
  37. Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds illus. Peter Brown
  38. Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
  39. Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds illus. Matt Davies
  40. Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto illus. Ed Martinez
  41. Old Bear by Kevin Henkes
  42. Tea Rex by Molly Idle
  43. The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
  44. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch illus. Michael Martchenko
  45. Aberdeen by Stacy Previn
  46. President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett illus. Chris Van Dusen
  47. Journey, Quest, and Return (Journey Trilogy) by Aaron Becker
  48. The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
  49. Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum illus. Keika Yamaguchi
  50. Guess Again! by Mac Barnett illus. Adam Rex

Oh goodness there are many more, but I promised to stop at fifty. There are lots of books that I love for specific reasons, e.g. how they address a certain issue, but for this list I tried to stick to my general favorites. What do you think? Any big ones that I missed? What picture books would you add to the list?

 

top illustration from A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers

Chrysalis: a preparatory or transitional state

I look into my tea leaves and what I choose to see is the life of a writer. A quiet house by the sea or in the country, a child playing in the living room, a husband editing in the study or rehearsing for an audition, and me in a nook with a computer diving deep into other worlds. In Maui we dove down to 120 feet at Molokini Crater—the deepest we’ve ever gone. I swam at the bottom of the sea with eagle rays and octopus, but writing feels deeper. In a marathon writing session the real world melts away and suddenly I am through the sea, on an adventure with Niguel, Iris, and Gus, trying to escape the vengeful Callum before he gets to Iris’ father, Peter Applegate.

94fac0ae1d47570c0ffb191c99cf4bc8You have no idea what I’m talking about, I know. These are characters in my book. They’ve become close friends of mine, and I know they feel neglected.

Nymphalidae_-_Danaus_plexippus_ChrysalisThe neglect is making my wings hurt. I feel them pushing hard against the chrysalis that has protected them for 32 years, and if they don’t make it out soon the bones will break. I know this to be true, so why am I making it so hard to break free?

The-Monarch-Butterfly-Chrysalis1

In writing the first draft of my novel, several challenges emerged, one of which was knowing when to finish a chapter. Often, it was clear. The chapter finished itself and I sailed on into the next. Sometimes, though, sometimes, I’d want to stay in a chapter for reasons that were perhaps unclear, but what was clear is that I knew it was going on too long. The third chapter of my novel was such a one. I kept writing and writing, knowing that nothing about the chapter was helping to move the story along. I loved the characters in the chapter. I found the action of the chapter humorous and charming (if I do say so myself), even though I knew it was irrelevant to the ultimate motor of the book. In my heart I knew I should end it, perhaps even cut out the whole thing, but I liked it too much. It was comfortable. It was clever (if I do say so myself) and it had the desired effect of distracting me from making the book truly great.

I wonder if I’m a bit stuck now, in my life, spending precious time in a chapter that is comfortable and full of clever characters. It’s hard to know when to move on.

That’s not true, I suppose. Knowing is the easy part. It’s the moving on that is hard.

1af9d0cd9c6a6ed51e786e33437282b6Growing up makes moving from chapter to chapter effortless in a sense, because the pages were turned for me. I was born. I started school. I twirled baton. I survived middle school. I went to high school. I got into college. I studied in London. I graduated from college. I moved to L.A. The outline was all there, and then—suddenly—the outline stopped. Suddenly it was up to me to structure the chapters. I’ve done pretty well so far. Chapter 10: Rebecca gets a job. Chapter 11: Rebecca joins a theatre company. Chapter 12: Rebecca gets married. Chapter 13: Rebecca works at jobs and produces plays and spends a lot of time on Facebook and watching Netflix.

Chrysalis Emerging 3In revising the third draft of my book, I got wise and removed the chapter that was gumming up the action, but I didn’t delete it. I moved it to my “Some other time” folder. I’ll bet the characters and the very humorous dialogue (if I do say so myself) will appear in a future book, but they will only find their right place and time if I let go of them for now.

My wings hurt. Soon, very soon, I need to decide how important it is for me to fly because wings can break and wilt. Of course I know how I feel. Flying is the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do. If there is a heaven, I know it involves flying.

monarch-in-flight-1024x576It’s time to write the next chapter. Like a mystery shape on the horizon, I’m not sure yet if it’s a ship, a whale, a lighthouse, an island? Time to grab Brad’s hand (Brad is in every chapter you see), and swim out there to find out. Time to let go of this chapter that I’m in—turn the page. Come back perhaps “Some other time.”

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Chapter 14: Rebecca, author 

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A Familiar Beast

I have questions about rejection. I do hope you’ll bite and share your thoughts in the comments. As a student of the arts, I met rejection at a young age. I’ll never forget silently weeping in the back seat of our car when I found out that I wasn’t cast as a Von Trapp child in The Sound of Music when I was 12 years old. I was relegated to the chorus of nuns—or, rather, novices. Not even a full-fledged nun. The dealer of rejection in that instance was the director, aka my mom. I don’t blame her. She was my director and she made the best casting decision for the show. In hindsight that was a very important lesson for me to learn as an artist; nothing has ever been handed to me. But yeah, rejection was personal from early on.

We’re told repeatedly that rejection is an unavoidable element of our artistic lives, like a smelly beast with whom we must learn to live. I get it, but man, some days that beast is smellier than others. On those days I stop and ask myself in earnest, why? Why am I doing this? Will the glimmers of success or artistic satisfaction make the years of rejection bearable? I mean really, this is haaaarrrd. Will it be worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I theorize that even with “success” the beast will not leave me alone. I imagine it will change shape, change color, change smells, but the rejection will continue at every level in different forms, won’t it? In the form of bad reviews, higher stakes losses, chronic self-doubt, disappointing second novels, etc. So why? Why the torment?

Then I started asking more questions. Is this beast unique to the arts? Is there something about artistic fields that lend themselves to more rejection? Or does rejection exist equally elsewhere? Do my friends in STEM fields, or law, academia, business, entrepreneurs—do you experience the same frequency of rejection as my friends in theatre, film, TV, visual art, music, publishing? Are you as well-acquainted with the beast? Maybe you’re just better at keeping him on a leash. I’m genuinely curious because I’ve been so entrenched in the arts for so long that I fear my field of vision has become quite narrow. I also want to feel less alone. I want affirmation that I should not abandon my art for another path because a new beast will in fact be waiting for me on the “easier” roads. Is that true? Or is there a less painful but equally gratifying way to walk through life other than that of a perpetually rejected artist? My non-artist friends, enlighten me.

He shouts and hogs the bed. He never bathes. His claws are sharp. No I’m not talking about Brad! Brad is an angel and takes very good care of his nails. It’s the beast. My invisible housemate. On the other side of my horrible beast is a tiny promise of glory. Is it real? A trick? If it’s not a trick, is it worth it? I don’t know, but beasty and I know each other so well at this point, even without the taste of glory . . . I’d probably miss him. And that, my friends, is the true madness of the arts.

 

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How to Twirl Baton With a Baby

In fifth grade I became a competitive baton twirler. It was fun, until I threw up in the middle of my routine at a regional competition—but that’s a story for another time. My specialty was two baton. That’s twirling two batons at once. I was the only member of my team that did two baton. You throw one baton in the air, twirl the other one under your leg then spin around a few times and catch the first. That type of thing. It was almost impossibly hard to learn, but I stuck with it and finally felt the magic click. You know the one. That click you feel when something awkward turns into something effortless. The moment your muscles remember something for the first time. Magic. Once that happened both batons glided around each other like pieces of a puzzle doing a dance. I won’t lie—it was impressive.

I guess I’ve always done a lot of things at once. I don’t even realize how many things I’m doing at any given time because the choice isn’t usually a conscious one—I just do things. A friend of mine often comments on my time management skills and how amazed she is that I do so much, and I’m always surprised to hear it. Why should I be surprised? Why don’t I see the impressive motion of all the batons I twirl at once? If asked to describe myself I would use terms like lazy, master procrastinator, laid back to a fault. But if I objectively look at my docket I must admit that I too am surprised by all that I do.

Last Monday I felt unproductive for what reason I can’t remember other than it’s become a state of being for me at this point. I always feel unproductive. I can never do enough. There’s never enough time. I paused and took inventory of what I actually had done that day and my jaw sort of fell open a little. I rehearsed for The Designated Mourner, got lunch with Brad, went grocery shopping, did some laundry, squeezed in a photo shoot for Whimsy Do, went for a three mile run, cleaned out our closet, all with time left over to veg on the couch watching Bloodline. That’s kind of a lot. So why the heck did I feel so useless?

I can’t answer that. This particular entry is not for dissecting that neurosis. This post is meant to rattle me, wag a little finger in my face and say, “You better accept that you’re good at two baton, because you’re going to have to keep juggling if you want to do the things you want to do.” I act, run, clean, and make Whimsy Dos at the same time because I like doing all of those things and the stakes are relatively low on each of them. They’re recreational and relaxing for me, so I just puzzle them together somehow and make it work. When I look at my goals that have higher stakes, I freeze.

I wrote a novel that’s desperately waiting for revisions, yet there it sits in my Dropbox, rough and sad. I have career goals that need outlining, nurturing, executing. I ignore them because they’re hard. I want to be a mother.

Here we get to the hardest puzzle piece of all.

After thinking about this rabidly for the past several weeks I feel like I can map out the next few years of my life. Once the play is open I can carve out time to write. I’m putting pen to paper when it comes to planning my career. I’m laying out the steps. Brad and I have a new savings plan in place to build our dream tiny home here in L.A. The problem is that these things happen one after the other in my grand plan.

Then there’s a baby. I can write a novel, make career moves, and build a house in some semblance of succession. Baby however? I can’t stop everything to have a baby. I also can’t wait until the above items are complete to have a baby. I’ve given myself a headache analyzing my timeline to figure out where a baby best fits, and the answer is nowhere. There is never a good time to have a baby. Maybe retirement. You’ve done the big career stuff, hopefully, and now you can just have a baby and focus on that. I guess this is why being a grandparent is so awesome.

But I’m never going to be a happily retired grandparent if I don’t take up the parenting thing first. If I want to be a mother, I’m going to have to have a baby while I’m doing something else at the same time. That’s a fact. I turn 32 in two weeks. Still viable but the clock is ticking. I don’t know how long it will take me to activate my career goals, to finish my book, to build a house. I have no idea, but I’m guessing it’s going to be more than three years and if I wait until after I’m 35 I’ll be starting a vicious game of roulette with mother nature.

There is never a perfect time to have a baby, so if you want to have a baby you have to learn two baton—or three or four baton—and hope that eventually you’ll feel that magic click. And at some point I’m sure I’ll drop all the batons but if there’s one thing I learned from my competition days you always pick that baton back up and keep going—even if you dropped the thing in a puddle of your own vomit. (I did keep going by the way. Took home 3rd place).

I’ve been so terrified of juggling high stakes items for so long that I’ve been blind to the fact that I’m actually really good at juggling. It’s just that I’ve been juggling apples. They fit nicely in a hand, they have a good weight to them, they’re kind of fun, you get to eat them after, and it’s not the end of the world if you drop them. Maybe a bruise or two but they’re just apples. Apples are simple.

I need to conjure the bravery necessary to juggle fire.

Maybe it’s time to take up fire baton.

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Unfortunately I don’t have any video of me twirling at competition. I guess that puking incident made my mom a little video shy. Check out this clip for a representative two baton routine. This girl reminds me of—well—me.

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done: Running the LA Marathon

It’s official. Running is a mental illness. I’m counting down the days until marathon running is entered into the DSM. It’s only a matter of time. Four days ago I finished the LA Marathon—however reluctantly. Nothing in my life has challenged me physically and mentally like those 26.2 miles. The experience was leaps and bounds more difficult than my first marathon.

Let me get the bummer stuff out of the way. The LA Marathon just isn’t for me. As much as I love Los Angeles (and I do, deeply), running across it did nothing for me. I thought the experience of bipedally moving from the east side to the west, unencumbered by traffic and a vehicle, would instill a great deal of civic pride in my heart. It did not. The first six miles were great. Brad was still running with me. We trotted through the streets of downtown Los Angeles discovering little gazebos and walkways that you just don’t notice when you’re in a car. I felt fresh and strong, and the city looked great. Once the race got really hard (which I’ll get to in a minute) the city lost its luster and no amount of drag performers in WeHo or palm trees on Rodeo Drive could cheer me up.

I wanted to run the Walt Disney World Marathon because I knew that no matter how hard the running got or how bad I felt physically, I would be in my happy place. I thought the environment would act as a stimulant when my legs wanted to give out, and I was right. My old pal Mickey got me through. I loved running through the world of Disney because the whole place made me happy. I love Los Angeles but my associations with the city are not that pure. There are certain neighborhoods and streets that feel like happy places and others that feel like haunts. I’d pass down a street near where I used to live years ago and think, “Oh that was a tough time in my life.” Who wants to be reminded of such chapters of one’s life when doing the hardest thing you’ve ever attempted to do? Total bummer. No, LA has way too many complex emotional associations to make for a good marathon environment.

Another benefit to Walt Disney World was that I did not know the geography. I had no idea how far it was from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios so I couldn’t think about the many miles from point A to point B. Not knowing the terrain forced me into the moment and the mile at hand. Very beneficial. In Los Angeles, however, I am all too acutely aware of how far it is from Hollywood to Brentwood and so when running down Sunset Blvd I felt completely crushed by the thought of making it allllll the way to Wilshire. Are you kidding me? I have to run to Crescent Heights? I’m only at Sunset Junction! Not possible! When it comes to running those kinds of distances, ignorance is bliss.

I live in Venice and I work in Glassell Park. For those of you who don’t know LA geography, Venice is as far west as you can go, and Glassell Park is about as far east as you can go and still say you’re in Los Angeles. In short, I traverse the entire city from west to east and back again—every—single—day. Why did I think going from the “Stadium to the Sea” would hold any novelty for me? It felt like my commute.

My last beef with the LA Marathon is logistical. WHY IS IT SO HARD TO ORDER ENOUGH BATHROOMS TO ACCOMMODATE 26,000 PEOPLE? I swear. It seems that every race I do skimps on the port-0-potties and I seriously don’t understand it. There’s no way to irritate a runner faster than a) run out of water or b) not provide enough bathrooms thus causing said runner to have to wait in line when she should be running. This is exactly what happened. I may have had one too many garlic knots the night before at C&O Trattoria but I had to make two bathroom stops during the marathon. Guess how long I waited in line? Go ahead. Guess.

20 minutes.

What?! That is unacceptable. I was already having a painfully slow race but to add an extra 20 minutes to my time, and then another 10 minutes for the second bathroom stop, that is heartrendingly significant. We all paid a lot of money to run this thing. Can’t we go to the bathroom in a timely manner? Oh and the first john I used ran out of toilet paper. Not cool. I mean there just aren’t a lot of options in that scenario.

So those are the reasons both personal and logistical that I won’t be running the LA Marathon, specifically, again anytime soon. I’m glad I did it. I was curious. But now I know.

More bummer stuff—I’m ashamed of my time. Listen, I never ever judge anyone else’s running pace. I don’t believe there is a certain speed at which you become a real runner. It’s personal. A 10 minute mile may be slow to one runner and unattainably fast for another. To Meb, an 8 minute mile is a very gentle jog. I can’t even imagine. We run to discover our capabilities and ranges, and learn to perform within them. Me? At my best, I’m a 10 minute mile runner on a 5k, an 11 on 10k, and an 11:00-11:30 on a half marathon. Knowing that range I believe in my heart of hearts that I should be able to do a marathon between a 12:00-13:00 minute mile. I believe I can do that.

This marathon clocked in at a 15:00. Part of that was due to the half hour I wasted using the loo, but even taking that out of consideration I generally clocked about a 14:00 on my Garmin. Here’s the thing. I’m not a 15 minute mile runner. I’m not a 14 minute mile runner. I’m just not. So even though I finished the race and got my medal, I feel beat. I feel like the course and the day got the best of me. Even though my mom keeps telling me I should feel proud, I don’t feel proud. Two in and I’ve yet to perform a marathon at my potential.

There was a litany of reasons specific to where I’m at right now as a runner that made this race so slow and painful. The greatest challenge I faced going in was that I was injured for about 50% of my training. By the time I hit the double digit training runs I was almost crippled by shin splints. Even on 3 mile runs I could barely get my time below a 12:30 minute mile. Brutal. I was this close to skipping the marathon after I barely finished a 16 mile run. It was an “oh what the hell” attitude that got me to sign up, not any kind of belief in my strength.

I was injured, and I was overweight. Look, I like myself. I like my body. Maybe if I were a bit more dissatisfied on an emotional level it would be easier to lay off the calories that have put this extra weight on my frame. But alas, I’m fairly confident in my skin and didn’t feel all that motivated to slim down for this race that I wasn’t even that enthusiastic about running in the first place. To be overweight as a runner is tough stuff. It makes your job ten times harder. It is precisely the same thing as a fit person with no body fat trying to run 26.2 miles wearing a forty pound lead suit. It would slow anyone down. I don’t need to lose forty pounds but I could stand to lose twenty-five. I think if I did that, that might be the only missing link to my elusive 5:30 marathon.

So what was it like to run a marathon with all of those things working against me? As I said on Instagram, I can’t imagine anything in the world—short of torture and maybe childbirth—harder than running that race. (I’ve actually heard several women tell me that giving birth was easier for them than running a marathon, so there you go). I hit a wall at mile thirteen. THIRTEEN. It’s normal and expected to hit a wall at some point but usually it’s around 18. Then you work through it until about mile 21, and you’ve got the last 5 miles on adrenaline. I hit it with HALF OF THE RACE LEFT TO RUN. Besides a few brief and fleeting runner’s high moments, I pushed against that wall for the entire rest of the race.

What does it mean to hit a wall? I think the best way to imagine it is literally. Imagine running in place, now push up against a wall. Now don’t stop. Now keep doing that for five hours. Now imagine there are thousands of people around you running right through the wall but you still have to push against it. Now imagine the feeling like you’re not getting anywhere even though your feet are moving in a manner that would suggest forward motion. Now imagine that this is your fate for all time. Like Sisyphus, you are to push against this wall for eternity. Now imagine you feel more alone than you’ve ever felt in your life. Now imagine the time you felt like the biggest failure in the entire universe. Now feel like that. Now magnify that feeling by ten. Keep pushing against that wall. Now imagine you’re nauseous. Now imagine your mouth is on fire but no matter how much water you drink your mouth is still thirsty, but you can’t drink more because then your stomach will be even more nauseous. Now imagine a car just rolled over your feet.

It’s kind of like that.

It is so difficult to put the struggle into words because I don’t actually remember any of it. I remember it intellectually, but I don’t remember the pain. Nature does this as a defense mechanism so we’ll repeat painful things like childbirth without hesitation, but I’m not sure Mother Nature anticipated the effect on marathon runners. I imagine her looking down on us from some celestial treehouse shouting “You guys! Stop it! I wiped the pain memory for making babies! Not for this! This is ridiculous!” Runners don’t listen though. I don’t remember the pain. Which is what has led me to my next question…

Which marathon should I run next?

At mile 20 I promised myself I would draft a document and have it notarized stating that I was not allowed to run another marathon. Ever. Three hours after I’d finished I started doing the math in my head to figure out how much I’d have to save to do Walt Disney World in 2018. I’m telling you. It’s a certifiable mental disorder. Despite the tears running down my face (there were many), despite the pain, the doubt, the struggle—I want to do it again. I understand masochism now. Something about pain and struggle brings us closer to our potential and a divine truth.

Can you tell I’m Catholic?

In all honesty, this race was a spiritual experience. Perhaps it’s the season of Lent that has me meditating deeply on the concept of struggle. When I ran up against that wall I wasn’t running on strength. I had none. I wasn’t running on willpower. I had none. I wasn’t running on grit. I had none. I had nothing. Nothing left. I had to pull from something higher than myself. And whether or not you believe that’s a real thing or just a mind trick, it doesn’t really matter and I don’t really care. It only mattered that it worked. And that higher power—that pull on a force of energy beyond myself—was absolutely the only thing that got me across that finish line. Oh and this song by The Killers.

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” You see this quote a lot in the running world. You’ll see it written on people’s bibs, printed on people’s shirts. Meb has it listed as the only thing on his Twitter bio. The first time I saw a runner with this passage printed on her running shirt I scoffed. Pfft. I’m a Catholic but I’m not really on board with the whole divinity of Jesus thing. It’s confusing. I’m a bad Catholic. I just don’t believe all the magic miracle stuff, but I do believe that Jesus was an amazing figure with an absolutely incredible story. I love all the rituals, and I love good stories. So what does that passage really mean? It doesn’t have to mean that the magic of Jesus helps win races. It can mean that if you want it to. If you need it to. If it does to you. To me it is the story of the universe—that there is a force which unites all of us. This thing—this energy—is there for us to call on when we need to endure. It is pure goodness and grit. It is mystery and it is power. It is outside us and within us. It never runs out. It never hits a wall. Whether you call it Christ or God or The Force or the Universe, I think the important point is that it is something eternally strong that exists outside of you, but flies like a kite with its string tethered directly to your own heart. And to the heart of every human walking the earth. I accessed that magic on Sunday. I let myself fly that kite, and it is the only reason I finished.

So what were the upsides to running the LA Marathon? Oh of course there were many. That divine revelation thing was pretty cool. Seeing so many friends on course made my heart explode. (Seriously guys, you have no idea how much you helped). I learned a ton. You can’t go halfway on something that hard and expect satisfying results. I didn’t— couldn’t—go all in on my training and I should have adjusted my expectations accordingly for finishing the race. Manage your expectations. Always a good life lesson.

I’m fired up for next time. I may have thrown out the contract prohibiting me from running again, but I left a few provisions. I won’t sign up for another marathon until I’ve dropped 20 pounds. And I won’t sign up for another marathon until I’ve found one that I’m really excited about. I may only have one marathon left in me and if that’s the case I have to see what I’m capable of. Where I run is just as important as how I run. Unfortunately I have top shelf taste. I’d love to run Rome more than anything. Hmm.

It was a true treat to run this race with my husband and Neiman. Even though we didn’t run it together, we were together, you know? Neiman finally broke his 4 hour marathon goal (see what I mean about relativity with pace? that is crazy fast), and Brad made his goal of running the entire race without any walk breaks and he made a great time too. Good job boys.

I learned about struggle. I’m a very laid back and casual person. I’m not Type A. I don’t like things to be hard. This serves me in that I’m a very happy person most of the time. What I learned about myself in this race is that I associate struggle with failure. When things got hard running this race the negative thoughts FLOODED in. I couldn’t keep them out. A true athlete encounters physical struggle, but they win the race by winning the game between their ears. I didn’t lose this marathon with my shin splinty legs. I lost it with my mind.

If running marathons were easy everyone would do it. Everyone doesn’t do it so the struggle makes the difference. If getting a book published were easy everyone would do it. Getting my book published is, as it turns out, very much in the not easy category, so I have to embrace the struggle as a sign pointing me toward success. Insert any dream or goal and the same is true. Struggle is the stuff. It’s the troll guarding the bridge that you either have to fight, escape, or trick into letting you pass. Rejoice when you encounter the struggle troll. Then kick his ass.

Oh and my skirt was really cute.

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There’s more to share but I think it’s time to move on. On to the next race. I’ll take a break from marathon running for a couple of years, but marathon—I’m coming for you. We don’t get to break up like that.

Some photos.

 

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Lovers getting married at Mile 11.

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Completely unappreciative.

Happy running friends!

Long Live the Goblin King

David Bowie died this week. I read the news on Facebook, as I strangely discover most major headlines these days. Checking my feed before bed I read the words “No, no, no,” then “RIP,” then saw a picture of Ziggy Stardust. Didn’t take long to put the story together.

I’ll admit this one knocked the wind out of my sails. Legends die. We all do in fact. The death of Robin Williams last year was intensely tragic. Natalie Cole’s passing a couple of weeks ago had me waxing nostalgic about the times my best friend and I would drive around Sacramento belting Orange-Colored Sky at the top of our lungs. They were both taken too soon. But Bowie. Damn. A world without David Bowie is just WAY less bright, right?

David Bowie is many things to many people—which perhaps is the mark of a truly great artist. The ability to get in deep under the skin of your audience in a personal and individual way, all the while reaching across the globe. (Let’s be real, Bowie reached to the stars). Because of Bowie I finally felt cool at age sixteen, driving around in my orange BMW 2002 blasting Hunky Dory and Space Oddity. He had me thinking early on about what it meant to transform, adapt, and recreate as an artist. He made me want to do just that.

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But I won’t lie to you. More than the rock n roll, the performance art, the gender bending, the rule defying, the musician. More than any of those things, David Bowie was The Goblin King. David Bowie was my sexual awakening.

Don’t lie! I’m not alone! There are memes about this people. It’s a common joke that his character in Labyrinth was responsible for the turning on of millions of adolescents everywhere. But it wasn’t until he passed yesterday that I stopped to think critically about that movie and the role it played in my life. Those tight pants were no accident.

The mark of a great fable is a message masked so well in metaphor that the audience may not even realize the message exists without further intellectual excavation. This is especially true in children’s stories. Children hear stories on the first available frequency. Metaphors make their way into children’s heads, but are filed in a cabinet that remains locked until needed. The emotional impact a great story has on a child is the key that allows them to unlock that cabinet later in life and discover the complex layers of their favorite stories. Whereas an adult may read Alice in Wonderland and be able to pick out the commentary on Victorian society that Carroll was making while having his protagonist confront chaos, at the same time as simply enjoying the story, a child just jumps all the way into Wonderland. So it’s not my fault that I didn’t realize Labyrinth was a metaphor for the sexual awakening of young people. I simply watched the story feeling confused and interested in my attraction to this magical man at the heart of it.

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I thought about Labyrinth a lot yesterday. With my love and nostalgia for the movie I finally unlocked the cabinet of metaphors after 20 years. The first file I uncovered contained my complicated feelings toward David Bowie’s Goblin King . All at once I realized—this story was bold.

Labyrinth is about sex. You could take the safer umbrella approach and say it’s about “growing up,” but no, no no. It is quite specifically about the discovery and development of a young lady’s sexuality. In our culture we don’t like to talk openly about burgeoning sexuality in young women (or men, for that matter), which is probably why we end up fetishizing it. We really should allow ourselves to address the sexuality of young people in a more honest way. Unlike literary metaphors, sexual development is not a thing that should be locked in a cabinet until adults feel more comfortable. But I digress. Here’s the deal with Labyrinth:

The baby Toby is not just a baby, he’s Sarah’s innocence and childhood. The Goblin King is sex embodied. The Labyrinth is puberty. That’s the framework. Just as The Goblin King’s castle lies at the heart of the Labyrinth, sex and all its mysteries lie at the heart of puberty. If you lay those metaphors over the devices in this film it plays out beautifully.

Sarah feels the tedium of childhood dragging down her blossoming independence. In an adolescent fit she wishes it away completely. Enter sex. Sexuality, aka Jareth, steals her childish innocence, aka the baby, and hides it deep in a maze filled with temptations and tricks which she must navigate successfully before it’s lost forever.

You remember how the movie goes. Helping hands, talking worms, oubliette. Lets skip to the next act.

Just when she almost gets to the heart of the maze she is tempted by two things. She bites into a peach (not an apple by the way, a peach, think on it) and hallucinates her most romantic fantasy. She is the queen and paramour of a seriously sexy hero in a mask. If she just gives in she can live forever entrapped in this fairytale of dancing and swooning.

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This is the ultimate trap of our burgeoning sexuality isn’t it? We are drawn helplessly to the romances that play out in our heads—peppered more and more with adult content with each passing day of puberty. How many of you were pissed at Sarah for not staying trapped in that crystal ball with Jareth?

*Raises hand*

I wanted what I saw on the screen. But I also felt shame that I wanted it. I knew it was wrong to have romantic feelings toward this character because, well, he was a grown man, but also because he was the villain of the story. Through Sarah’s hesitation I discovered the shame that lingers so dangerously close to sex. I knew I shouldn’t want what I saw but I did. I wanted the movie to end there and stay lost in the reverie of princess gowns and mystery men and palace love-making. I VERY reluctantly followed Sarah out of the fantasy.

Our hero is strong. She knows something is missing from the masquerade and breaks free of the hallucination. So The Goblin King tries another tactic of the opposite ilk. He drops her back into her childhood room—filled with teddy bears, toys, blankets, and all the comforts of innocence. If she doesn’t want to be a slave to her fantasies then perhaps he can get her to regress into her childhood and control her that way.

Jareth’s second attempt at entrapping our hero fails. She is drawn to the comfort of her own innocence but she knows almost immediately that something is wrong. You can never go back. She bursts through the artifice that is a preserved childhood and journeys on to the heart of her sexuality. Brilliant.

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And what happens when she gets there? She plays a cat and mouse game with The Goblin King as he serenades her seductively. She sees the baby, her elusive childhood, always just out of reach. No matter. The baby was bait for her to confront what was really going on. And what’s really going on? I’ll tell you what’s really going on. David Bowie in Freudian bulge pants is what is going on.

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At the heart of the maze and the top of the castle there’s nowhere else to go. It’s just our hero and sex. And what does sex say?

“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

Bold words for a grown man in bulge pants to utter to a 15 year old girl, right? Let me control you, he says. Despite his offer our hero discovers the only truth that could at once save her childhood and free her from the madness of puberty.

“You have no power over me.”

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It’s so good, right? I especially love Jareth’s face when she says it. He’s not angry and screechy, Wicked Witch of the West style, like Oh no! You won! What a world! He just looks disappointed, yet knowing. Like he hasn’t been conquered, but relegated to a supporting role in Sarah’s story, to appear at a later date.

I watched this movie when I was younger than Jennifer Connelly, so from my childish perspective she was older and thus an adult, so she and Bowie seemed about the same age to me. It wasn’t until I revisited Labyrinth as an adult myself that my jaw dropped as I discovered, holy crap she was a child!

This story titillated 14 year old feelings toward a 39 year old man. Bold! It allowed us to explore that complexity, then showed us the way out. Important. It went there, you guys. You can’t deny it. It went there. It showed us that puberty is a thing that happens to you, it’s not a thing that defines you. It’s messy, and it’s tricky, but you drive. This movie held our hand and said it’s okay to feel sexual feelings in the same season of life that you might still be clinging to your teddy bear. We know it’s confusing. It’s okay.

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How creepy and perfect is this picture?

Her proclamation of control frees Sarah from the Labyrinth and she’s instantly dropped back in her room. Her baby brother, released from his metaphorical duties, is safe in his crib. She is now confident enough in her own growing up that she can let go of her teddy bear and pass it along to the next generation.

Back in her room she finds her Labyrinth friends, remnants of her journey, in the mirror. The aids we discover in the maze of growing up are always there in our reflection… should we need them.

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(especially for dance parties)

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I love this movie. I mean. I LOVE. This. Movie. Of the Legends, The Dark Crystals, the NeverEnding Stories, I choose Labyrinth every time. I mean don’t get me wrong I loved and continue to love all the epic childhood fantasies the 1980s produced, but Labyrinth stood out among the rest. My devotion is 25% Jim Henson’s puppetry, 10% Sir Didimus, 5% “I’m just a worm,” and at least 60% David Bowie. At least.

And so, dear David Bowie, Jareth, Goblin King, God of Sex, you really did a lot for me. Listening to bad-ass rock n roll while my peers were hooked on Britney Spears was great. (Who am I kidding? I also listened to Britney Spears). But that wasn’t your greatest contribution to my life. To me, you will always be the mystery at the heart of sexuality. The tempter, the hero, the villain, the prince. All of it.

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Rest in peace, my Goblin King.

 

 

 

Life on Tahiti Time

This funny thing happened in Tahiti where time stopped. We were ensconced in a tropical paradise bubble where the sun rose and set but time didn’t actually move forward. I don’t think we aged the 10 days we were island-bound. Really, quantum physicists should check this out. It’s weird.

You see, time in my life has always been in relation to my goals. I’ve felt the clock ticking feverishly since I was a child.

How many days until Christmas?

How many days until school gets out?

I want to lose weight. How much time do I have before prom to do that?

I want to be an actress. How much time do I have? Let me stalk IMDB and see what age other actresses were when they got their breaks and I’ll compare myself until I’m satisfied.

I want to run a marathon. How much time do I have to train?

I want to get to the weekend. How many days until the weekend?

I want to leave work. What hand is on what number on that clock?

I want to be a writer. How much time will it take me to finish this manuscript? How early do I have to get up to get decent writing time in before I have to leave for work? How long will it take me to write 10,000 words. How long do I have to wait before I can resubmit to a different publisher. How long should I wait before I follow up about my submission? How long does it take for a manuscript to make it through the editorial pipeline and onto a bookshelf? How much time do I have left to do all of these things? Do I have enough time? Am I running out of time?

Oh screw it. *Goes on Facebook*

On October 5 I stepped onto the soil of Moorea. Time faded away. No change of seasons. No change of tides. No weekends. No happy hours. No deadlines. No race days. No age limits. No pipelines. No time. Just peace. Quiet. Adventure. Fun. Experience.

Here’s the thing though. I missed time. After 10 days I looked forward to stepping back onto my matrix of timelines. I didn’t want to leave paradise but like some sort of junkie I wanted the pressure of a clock ticking toward something, even if that something was just Halloween in two weeks. Am I crazy? Maybe it’s my Western-wired overly ambitious American brain. Probably. I left Tahiti grateful and rejuvenated by the extended pause. Now I’m ready to start the clock with a healthy perspective that my timelines are made up, they are relative, and they can change in an instant.

Tahiti gave my imagination an oasis to which I can always retreat. When time moves too quickly I will close my eyes and fly away to our beach of coral bones, and our Polynesian pups, and the night-light water and wise manta rays. I will go there and I will feel the clock slow. Thank goodness.

So I’m 31 and I’m not a published author yet. I will adjust my timeline. So it’s Tuesday and I’m facing four more days until the weekend. It’s just a day in time and space and the weekend is made up. I will do one thing today completely for myself that makes me feel free and suddenly I’ve turned Tuesday into a weekend. I’ve let time feel like the enemy in my life. I had to run 4,000 miles to discover that he was a villain of my own creation. Aren’t they always?

Our second to last day in French Polynesia I experienced a perfect moment. The sun sat low in the sky on the other side of the lagoon, shining a glorious warm pink light on the main island of Maupiti. It stood there, the mountain, basking in the warm pinkness of the sunset. Brad snorkeled by the reef, beyond where I could see him. I had just finished a good book. The Polynesian pups slept by my feet and roused as I stood to watch the sun go down. I could not see or hear another living human anywhere. For a brief moment I stood alone on this island with my Polynesian pups and the water and the mountain smiling into the sun. Everything felt warm in a sleepy ember sort of way. A perfect moment. The spirit moved me and I sang Never Never Land to the pups and to the mountain and to my husband out in the sea beyond where he could hear me. I stood there and sang at the top of my lungs as the sun set on our last day. It slipped behind a cloud, into the ocean, and as if on cue I felt the clock start ticking once again. Tick. Tock. Suddenly I understood what sort of vicious creature that Captain Hook was really running from. Brad came in from the sea. My siren song worked. He grabbed my hand and we retreated into our bungalow. Time to go home.

I have a place where dreams are born,
And time is never planned.
It’s not on any chart,
You must find it with your heart.
Never Never Land.

It might be miles beyond the moon,
Or right there where you stand.
Just keep an open mind,
And then suddenly you’ll find
Never Never Land.

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There Are Words For Paradise

We ran to Tahiti. After four years, nine months, and 1 day of dreaming, running, and planning, we are in Tahiti. We ran 4,109 miles to Tahiti and now we are here. Friends, family, and perfect strangers have cheered us on. And we are here.

I very much dislike the phrase “there are no words…” I’m guilty of using it, and at the very least feeling tempted to use it, especially on significant occasions. My wedding day. Crossing the finish line of my first marathon. Running to Tahiti. To feel so much all at once, each sense stimulated, oh how VERY tempting to sit back in that cornucopia of wonder and proclaim “There are no words!”

There are words. There are always wonderful words. Just as there exists a perfect combination of pigment to capture every color of the rainbow, there exists a perfect combination of words to describe every human experience under the sun. There are words. There are always words. What is undeniably difficult is putting them together in the right order – mixing the pigment. In moments such as this, having just returned from a day of snorkeling with dozens of blacktip sharks and kissing sting rays in a crystalline blue lagoon, the right words elude me. Having escaped to picnic on a tiny motu encircled by a seemingly infinite spread of coral reef, and having watched a Polynesian man named Siki teach my husband to open a coconut with his bare hands and a stick, and meet a real life Nemo in a mustard yellow anemone, and kiss a tiki God left stranded on the beach, and learnt to make ceviche from scratch, and stared in disbelief at the electric shade of turquoise that water can be, and did I mention the swimming with sharks? The words are tricky.

Words transported me here. In every story about a far off land. In every tale about a found paradise. Words are our first wings. We read and our minds travel where our eyes can’t yet go. One day we decide to seek the worlds our minds have created. We go in search of Hemingway’s Paris, and Dickens’ London, and Fitzgerald’s New York. We seek Tahiti – the island to which our imagination is already well acquainted. And when we do, we remember that words took us there first.

There are always words. Find the right ones in the right combination and take us where you are. We all want to go. Since I am currently in a magical land, I’ll go first.

I write this from the balcony of the oldest hotel in Moorea. It’s called Club Bali Hai and the lobby looks like a real life Enchanted Tiki Room. Each time I all but hear the name “Club Bali Hai” I sing the mysterious ballad from South Pacific. I bet you are now too. Since this is Moorea’s oldest hotel we are certain it’s haunted. The sun is set and there are only two lights I see in Tahiti. Brad and I of course, but mostly a mysterious pair across Cook’s bay, blinking on and off as if transmitting a code across the sea. I think about Gatsby, and the green light. These aren’t green, they are white, but just as mysterious. Why are those lights blinking? Who lives there? Do they know their lights are communicating? Below us, stray but friendly cats and dogs stroll across the lawn as if on a promenade. There are so many stray cats here, they ease the missing of my own two fur babies back home. How sad Sharky and Mr. Wizard can’t go on adventures. I’m certain they would rather be Polynesian cats chasing crabs. Crabs the size of mangoes that try to hide their presence creeping from hole to hole, which they’ve burrowed so desperately in the ground. How reluctantly these curmudgeonly crabs traverse where sky meets land. They so clearly prefer the under. Under the soil, under the sea. Why must they come up at all if perhaps only to show us that they exist? When the sun sets in Tahiti every other soul disappears. I swear Brad and I are the only humans on this island. All is quiet except the buzz of bugs, the click of crabs, and the gentle flutter of a man-made waterfall in a nearby swimming pool. The ocean is silent. The sun sets and each set of people obviously transports to an alternate dimension where they are the only inhabitants in their world, sitting on balconies in haunted hotels in the middles of the world’s largest oceans – waiting for the sun to rise, and the chance to collide with other sets of peoples in one shared paradise. Tomorrow a rooster will crow at approximately 6:30 am. Tomorrow we will dive below, and see what words can be said about Moorea under the sea.

I’m no master wordsmith but I believe such masters exist. Perhaps for me, and for you my readers, perhaps there are no words I can adequately assemble to paint you the picture of this paradise. I will keep trying, but until then… some terribly inadequate visuals to accompany my inadequate words. I finish today thinking of one word in particular. Gift. What a tremendous gift.

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The welcoming committee.

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Drinking fresh pineapple juice across the bay from where they grow the pineapples.

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That water though.

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Where the other half lives. Overwater bungalows at Intercontinental Resort.

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The motu (tiny island) where we had a Polynesian picnic.

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Tevas on the reef look a lot like coral. As I discovered two minutes later when a fish bit my foot.

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Snorkeling on the motu after lunch.

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Our delightful little Polynesian picnic hut. I seriously can’t stop thinking of Adventureland. Disney did a good job. All those real life adventures paid off. (Disney nerd alert!)

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Lessons from our guide Siki on the many ways to wear a pareo.

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Cooking with Siki. A show. Today’s episode, fresh ceviche.

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Soooo many chickens and roosters on this island.

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An inviting magic tropical forest on tiny magic motu.

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My morning routine. Practice a little French, drink a little coffee, and gaze at a mountain I’d like to climb rising from the sea.

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That’s the face of pure and utter joy. Standing in a tropical lagoon, crystal clear as a swimming pool, as sting rays and reef sharks cruise all around us and swim up our shoulders to say hello. Sure, they’re probably looking for food. But I like to think this one really liked me for me.

More to come…

The Machines Between Us

I almost got into a car accident yesterday. I turn left while a monstrosity of an SUV doesn’t realize there are two left-hand turn lanes. He blindly pulls into my lane, mid turn. Luckily traffic moves slow, giving him enough time to realize he is about to pummel my little red car quivering in his shadow. Rather than quickly pull away and drive off, the guy stops, refusing to move forward. The way our cars are now positioned prevents me from driving away as well. He wedges me in. He looks at me — an austere older gentleman with white hair and oils of entitlement seeping out of the pores on his nose, one wrist casually resting on the wheel of his car, the other cradling his chin like a philosopher. I make a stinky face at him and gesture for him to drive away. He doesn’t. I try an exasperated face. He doesn’t. His face doesn’t change. I realize he wants to talk. Why I wonder? His face betrays nothing — as stern as a judge. One of two things could happen. 1) He will try to blame this near accident on me, or 2) He will try to hit on me. He proceeds to roll down his window, giving the universal signal that he wants me to do the same. I oblige. “What?” I demand.

“Why you do this?” he asks with a thick but unidentifiable European accent.

“Why did I do this?” I reply with surprisingly firm incredulity. I add sarcasm. “Umm, I didn’t do this, sir. This is my lane to turn into. You pulled into MY lane.” I say the last bit like the world’s worst kindergarten teacher talking down to a child who can’t follow directions. I demean. I condescend. His face remains changeless, which surprises me. It’s at this point the opponent should respond with a tactic of either defense or offense. Daggers are met with daggers or bigger swords. But his face doesn’t change. He is neither defensive nor combative.

“Oh. Sorry,” he responds, lifting his hand away from his chin and raising his palm to me in a gesture of deference. No sarcasm, no strings. Okay, wow, he admits he is wrong. This is a first. Okay. I guess this is over. He’ll drive away now.

He doesn’t. At this point we’re blocking oncoming traffic. Cars honk voraciously, but neither my surprise nor the incessant honking do anything to change his face. What does he want now? Is this the point where he starts hitting on me? That can be the only other explanation for what else this man in a giant SUV could possibly want from me.

“I’m sorry,” he says again. He looks me in the eyes when he says it. He makes sure to look me in the eyes. I can’t help but soften. When he almost hit me that thing happened. You know the thing. The thing where the angst of the modern-driver melds with the primal instinct of defense. This is the alchemy that produces road rage, and a moment ago it gripped me. But he looks me in the eye, not to threaten me, not to chastise me, not to hit on me. To say he is sorry. To say he is wrong, made a mistake, and is sorry. To say he is human.

I have no idea if this white-haired ambiguously European man in a giant car intends to do all of these things with his eye contact. I have no idea at all why he responds the way he does.

But he does.

He looks me in the eyes and that simple contact tames my primal-meets-modern road rager. Our eye contact flips my empathy back on.

After a few strange moments of this he finally drives away, and I am so taken aback that my little rage monster inside tries desperately to rear it’s ugly head one last time. “Maybe get a smaller car next time!” I yell at him as he drives away. Not the worst combination of words to throw at a person, but a split-second later they make me feel more terrible than I’ve felt in a long time. It is mean. This man appeals to my humanity. He is not necessarily kind or generous, and he does indeed have a car that is much too big for non-giants, but he does something powerful. He breaks down the machines between us. And I am mean.

I’m not a mean person. Snarky? Yes. Sarcastic? Sure. Sassy? Preferably. But mean? I don’t believe in mean. Anger has its place, as does rage and despair and a myriad other “dark” emotions. To be mean to each other appeals to the lowest common denominator. To be mean is to erode another person’s humanity. The damage is grave on both sides.

When I get behind the wheel of my car and I feel someone has crossed me, I like being mean. At least I think I do. The rage monster has told me I do.

Today’s morning commute continues the theme of “let’s cut Rebecca off.” Car after car pull right in front of me driving about 10-15 miles per hour slower, forcing me to do the act despised by driver’s worldwide — put my foot on the brake. One car in particular drives me crazy (pun intended). A green Lexus (ugh, Lexus) in the fast lane carelessly slows down to 55 mph, then speeds up to 75 when I try to pass, then slows again for no apparent reason, rendering it impossible to get around. My primal road monster takes form once again and I am pissed. I finally get a chance to pass this green Lexus. Yes! Now I can give the driver a dirty look as I pass. I’ll show her. I put on my best stink face and make my move. I am going to punish you good! I turn my head. The driver is a woman, early forties, and she is sad. I can’t tell whether she is crying or not, but I can tell that her mind is full of darkness and it’s taking everything she’s got to focus on driving.

My road monster has convinced me she is slowing and speeding to be a jerk. To piss me off. To prevent me from passing. Me me me. All cars drive the way they do to make my life difficult, right? Because they are all jerks and idiots. My road monster is wrong, however powerful. She got some bad news this morning. Or maybe her car is driving funny and she doesn’t have the money to fix it. She’s thinking about the kids she has to feed, or the ailing parent she has to care for, or the spouse who doesn’t understand. She’s taking her beloved cat, who is sick in the back seat, to the vet, wondering if this will be their last trip together. She speeds to get there quicker. She slows to soothe her cat. She’s driving away from an unsafe situation, or driving to an unsafe situation. She is thinking about the dead Syrian child on the shores of Hungary. She had a nightmare she can’t shake. She is sure her boss is about to fire her. She is chronically depressed. She is human.

What is it about the machines we build between us that isolate our best parts of ourselves from each other? These machines should simply be tools but they so easily become weapons of cruelty. Why do we forget so easily that we are all human, and we are struggling? These machines are not just shields, they are instigators. They can not only block our empathy but invite the monsters out to play. I see it clearly in the meanness that erupts out of me only when I drive. I see it in the comment of every troll on the internet. The horrible, cruel, racist, sexist, derogatory things that people type into their handheld machines and send through the cyber-machine to reach the rage monster coming from the other side. When did we forget that at the other end of that other machine is a human being?

I love technology. I love social media. I love cars. These things in and of themselves are amoral and require drivers — human drivers. We must captain our technology with our empathy. If we don’t, the primal monsters of indifference and rage will gladly take the reins.

And you know the truly wonderful thing about empathy? It can’t be machinized. It is supremely human and sacred. It can only be seen in the look on a struggling woman’s face. It can only be heard in the sound of a desperate child. It can only be understood when two sets of eyes meet, beyond the machines, and invite each other in. It’s magical. Don’t you want to live by magic?

Get out of your machine today. Look each other in the eyes. Even the worst of all jerks has to take his beloved cat to the vet for the last time. Try to understand.

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